Africa’s problems after independence are attributed to leadership failure

Monday July 22 2019

Peter Mulira

Peter Mulira 

By Peter Mulira

According to one school of thought expressed by a knowledgeable politician Uganda became a failed state soon after our independence due to our identities.

The period soon after African countries’ independence was characterised by violent conflicts, wars and genocide starting with the fiasco in the former Belgian Congo, which gained independence in 1960.

During the 60s various African countries failed to practice democracy or to regulate political difference and contestation which resulted in disintegration of social orders to the point which has been described as “state failure” or “state collapse.”

As one writer put it “…..economic life is deeply embedded in social life, and it cannot be understood apart from the customs, morals, and habits of society in which it occurs. In short, it cannot be divorced from culture.”

Africa’s problems soon after independence can be attributed to its leaders’ failure to uphold democracy in all its forms, assault on people’s cultures and replacing them with ruling parties’ ideologies.

To understand what happened in Uganda soon after independence we must revisit the manner in which the colonial state was established and the problems we inherited from this experience.


Before the establishment of the Uganda Protectorate under the British Order in Council, which came into force on August 11, 1902, people lived in their disparate communities according to their customs, morals and habits, but the Order brought them together to live as one people without any socialising agencies.

The preamble to the order reads “Whereas the territories of Africa situate within the limits of this Order are under the protection of His Majesty the King and whereas by treaty, grant, sufferance, and other lawful means His Majesty has power and jurisdiction within the said territories it is hereby ordered as follows…”

Under clause 6(b) of the Order the Governor with the approval of the Secretary of State was empowered to divide the territories into provinces or districts in such manner and with such sub-divisions as may be convenient….”

Two problems arose from this provision, the first being that when the divisions and sub-divisions were made, some communities found themselves bound together with their ancient arch-enemies within the same district or sub-division.

This led to conflicts between say Bakonzo and Batoro, between Banyama and Baboga in the west and in the east Basebei did not want to be part of Bugisu District. The cleavage between Buganda and Bunyoro over “the Lost Counties” was more complex and called for diplomacy to resolve it.

Accordingly, the independence government was faced with territorial and separation claims based on identity, which called for special qualities of leadership to resolve them.

But perhaps Buganda’s insistence for a federal status posed the greatest test for the new government. Unfortunately the new leaders saw this as Buganda’s wish to be unequal with others. If the issue had been approached from its historical and legal perspective emanating from the Buganda Agreement of 1900 the country would have been saved the agony which befell it.

Section 3 of the Agreement which was signed two years before the protectorate provided “The kingdom of Buganda in the administration of the Uganda Protectorate shall rank as a province of equal rank with any other province into which the Protectorate may be divided.”

As independence approached, Buganda demanded to know what will happen to her provincial status since the rest had rejected the idea of provinces. What happened afterwards is a classic case of failure to regulate our differences and contestations.

The 1966 Crisis introduced a political order which meshed the government, the State and the ruling party into one. Hence there was State failure.
Mr Mulira is a lawyer.